NEWARK, N.J. - Trailing two games to one, the New Jersey Devils needed to play with a sense of urgency in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference final series with the New York Rangers Monday night. It didn't take long to see that the Devils were ready to dominate their arch enemies in every facet of the game.
Zach Parise ended his recent scoring drought with two third-period goals, one a power play goal and the other an empty netter, and Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac each scored a first-period goal, leading the Devils to a dominant 4-1 victory, evening their best-of-seven series with the Rangers at 2-2.
Game 5 is set for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, and Game 6 will be played Friday night in Newark.
"I think our guys responded with a big effort," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said. "Right from the drop of the puck, we pushed it right away. We had a lot of positives. We put some pressure on them early and just carried it from there. It was the effort we needed."
Legendary goalkeeper Martin Brodeur stopped 26 shots to earn the victory. He kept the Rangers off the scoreboard until Ruslan Fedotenko fired a low shot that eluded Brodeur with five minutes left.
The Devils came out flying from the outset with inspired play and never let the Rangers accomplish any semblance of an offense or a rhythm.
The game got ugly in the third period, when former Devil Mike Rupp threw a punch to the chest of Brodeur, after earning a four-minute roughing penalty, sending Rupp to the locker room for the remainder of the game. It included a jawing session over the boards between the two coaches, DeBoer and Rangers head coach John Tortorella, causing the sellout crowd at the Prudential Center to get into a complete frenzy.
"I was just minding my business for real," Brodeur said. "I didn't say anything. I guess he was pretty pumped up. I never got punched like that before in my career. This was the first time. I didn't get hurt, but now I know I can take a punch."
Neither coach would comment about what was said between the two.
"This isn't about John and I," DeBoer said. "It's about the guys on the ice. I don't have anything to say about that."
"I'm not going to answer any question about that," said Tortorella, who was not his typical surly self and answered every question in the post-game press conference, despite the tough loss.
After having stellar shutout performances in Games 1 and 3, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was a lot more pedestrian Monday night, allowing two of the three goals to sneak right through his pads.
Parise's power play goal, his first of the series, came in the opening stages of the third period after Derek Stepan went off for high sticking. Just four seconds into the power play, Parise gathered the puck off a faceoff and slid it through Lundqvist's legs for the 3-0 lead.
"The puck just happened to go in the net tonight," Parise said. "That was the difference. It's a fine line and there's no secret to it. We had a good start to the game, and we just kept going from there."
Tortorella pulled Lundqvist with 2:23 left and Parise scored his second goal with 1:29 left, with Salvador and Brodeur getting assists.
"The best players have to be your best players in the playoffs," DeBoer said. "I knew Zach would respond. It was just a matter of time. He had been getting good opportunities."
The Devils drew first blood midway through the first period, when Alexei Ponikarovsky skated around the back of the net, then pushed to the point to find defenseman Salvador, who did what he was supposed to do -- put the puck at Lundqvist with some traffic in front, caused by David Clarkson. Salvador's shot might have clicked the skate of Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, but it went right through Lundqvist's pads for a goal at 8:10 of the period.
"We had to capitalize on our momentum and get some pucks in the net," said Salvador, who scored his third goal of the playoffs after failing to score a single goal in the entire regular season. "I just put the puck at the net and hoped that there would be someone to screen him (Lundqvist) because he was stopping everything. The more bodies in front of him, the better."
"The first one was a big one," DeBoer said. "It lifted a weight off us, and we were able to play a little looser and freer from that point on."
The Devils didn't stop their intense play and scored again four minutes later. Parise got an awkward carom off the side boards and carried it in against Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who failed to make a solid defensive move on the play. With Zajac on his left in a 2-on-1, Parise drew Del Zotto toward him, then slid the puck across to Zajac, who blasted it past Lundqvist for his sixth goal of the playoffs and a 2-0 New Jersey lead at the 11:59 mark.
"Getting one goal early was big," Zajac said. "Getting two was huge. We all thought we played well in Game 3. We thought we controlled the play. For us, the focus was on winning tonight, right from the start. It was important for us to play with the lead."
The Rangers played more spirited hockey in the second period and managed to put 13 shots on Brodeur, but none was really a solid threat. Marian Gaborik had the best chance, when his wrist shot was stopped by a sliding Brodeur with 10:29 left.
"We had some opportunities in the second period, but it was like we had the yips," Tortorella said. "The most important thing was that we need to have the puck more. It was a struggle for a number of our guys. We have to hold on to the puck more. We had it, then gave it back to them. "
Tortorella was not worried about his team's lackluster performance and obvious late frustration.
"We've been resilient all season long and we've done it throughout the playoffs," Tortorella said. "We have to have a short-term memory. We'll bounce back. It's a series, not one game."
But the Devils believe they have seized momentum with the one-sided win.
"You can see the frustration in them and see the results," Salvador said. "That's what we wanted to do. There was no need for what they did, taking cheap shots at Marty. "
"We must have done something right to get them that frustrated," Zajac said.
"The best hockey is yet to come," Brodeur said. "It's a three-game series. I don't expect anything different now. We're all looking forward to go back to Madison Square Garden and see what happens."
NOTES: The first fight of the series took place in the first period, when Rangers defenseman Ryan Mc Donagh hit Devils center Adam Henrique about four times with his stick, causing the Devils rookie to flip off the gloves. McDonagh slammed Henrique to the ice, but the pair received five minutes each for fighting. "I'm not going to back down," Henrique said. "They can say a lot of things, but we're still going to be there, playing our game."... As expected, DeBoer benched veteran Petr Sykora in favor of Jacob Josefson, returning to action after missing all of the playoffs with a wrist injury. Rookie D Adam Larsson was scratched for a second straight game...No surprises in the Ranger lineup, as Brandon Dubinsky, who skated regularly the last two days, is still not ready to return to action...Ilya Kovalchuk and Ryan Callahan were engaged in a tussle in the second period, after Callahan knocked Kovalchuk to the ice and Kovy retaliated with a stick to Callahan's groin.